When he became executive director of the National Corvette Museum in late 1996, Wendell Strode had never even driven a Corvette and had only ridden in one once.
Over the next 23 years, Strode led the Museum back to firm financial ground, even if the literal ground under part of the facility did literally cave in back in 2014!
Strode retired from his post in 2019 and quickly became the first inductee into the new category of Corvette Community Contributor in the Corvette Hall of Fame. His induction, planned for 2020, had to be delayed until this month because of the pandemic.
Now, another honor has come his way. NCM officials announced this week during the Michelin NCM BASH that the club room at the Museum is being renamed the Wendell Strode Club Room.
The room is a small, intimate space used for events, meeting, and a gathering place for all.
“Wendell not only cared about the Museum but the Corvette community that surrounds it,” NCM Board Chair Glenn Johnson said, “and for these reasons and more he is also being inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame.”
Strode downplayed his personal contributions, claiming “none of the Museum’s success would be possible without the Museum members, Museum leadership, and Museum staff.”
Ironically, though, Strode was helping the Museum before it even was a Museum! A Bowling Green banker back in 1988, he heard about an idea for the Corvette Museum and was soon recruited to serve as head of a task force established to build such a facility in Bowling Green, Ky. He reported back that private citizens were willing to donate a 30-acre tract and the State of Kentucky was committed to put in the road and utilities. He also worked with the National Corvette Restorers Society to put together a financial package that included a feasibility study to get banks interested in supporting the effort.
Once all the initial hoopla at opening weekend on Labor Day weekend 1994 had subsided, however, the Museum soon began to experience financial problems.
That’s when Strode came to the rescue.
He developed new strategies for generating funds and made strides to repair strained relationships with the community, clubs, enthusiasts, media, the Corvette Assembly Plant, and General Motors. His efforts helped the NCM pay off its initial debt while nearly doubling the size of the facility and adding a world-class motorsports facility. Membership has soared to about 36,000 members, up from 1,600 when he started! And don’t forget that sinkhole that caught the attention of the whole world seven years ago – he and the staff quickly turned it into lemonade as attendance soared with people wanting to see the sinkhole that swallowed eight classic Corvettes.
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